Jamaica's government has announced a major rethinking of its marijuana laws, including plans to partially decriminalise small amounts of pot and to allow possession for religious, scientific and medical purposes.
Justice Minister Mark Golding said on Thursday the cabinet was backing a proposal to make possession of up to 57 grams of "ganja" - as it is known locally - a petty offence that would result in a fine but not a criminal arrest.
"I wish to stress that the proposed changes to the law are not intended to promote or give a stamp of approval to the use of ganja for recreational purposes," Golding said. "The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities."
Golding also announced that marijuana would be decriminalised for religious purposes - a major victory for Jamaica's homegrown Rastafari spiritual movement. Many Rastafarians smoke marijuana as a sacrament, which they say brings them closer to the divine, but they have always faced prosecution for doing so.
Government plans call for decriminalisation for medicinal and scientific purposes as Jamaica hopes to cash in on the growing cannabis industry.
"It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to possess ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes," Golding said.
Legislation will also be drafted to provide a path for people to get criminal records expunged if they have been convicted under the current law for smoking small amounts of marijuana.
Debate has raged for decades around loosening marijuana laws in Jamaica, an island that is nearly as famous for its weed as it is for its scenic beaches and unique culture. The drug has been pervasive but outlawed for a century on the island, where about 300 young men receive criminal records each week for possessing a little marijuana.
Golding said the current law would remain in effect until legislation to amend it was authorised by lawmakers.